He may be small in stature, but country singer Kelly Cork’s twinkling blue eyes and permanent grin exude genuine country warmth and friendliness that can’t help but lift the spirit of those in his presence. Completing the image is the battered fedora which is almost as iconic as Slim Dusty’s signature Akubra. 

by Judy Fredriken

A product of a Maleny pioneering family, Kelly has humble beginnings which are reflected in his remarkable song writing.

Young kid on a hand-me-down rides away to find a dream’ is the opening line of one of his songs. 

“That was my life,” chuckles Kelly, “that’s exactly what happened.” Always tinkering with and riding bikes, he loves nothing more than to be on the road, losing himself in nature and a cloud of dreams.  

After teaching himself to play on his brother’s guitar at age 12, Kelly started playing at the Maleny Hotel while he was still at school. He credits the local pub for toughening him up to be able to handle the hard gigs later in life, when he sometimes played sets of four or five hours. 

He has come a long way since then, being the support act for renowned singers like Russell Morris, Felicity Urquhart and Josh Cunningham, Mental as Anything and John Schumann from Red Gum. 

He is a regular performer at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, the Gympie Muster and Nimbin Roots Festival along with countless other festivals, pubs and RSL Clubs. In 2016, he received recognition for his song writing abilities by the Australian Songwriters’ Association.

In true self-deprecating style, Kelly describes receiving his award at a gala night in Sydney, attended by a plethora of well-known musicians. 

“We had a briefing – ‘when you get called up for your nomination, you must come around this way and walk up the side of the stage’. When my name was called up – what’d I do? I walked up the wrong set of steps and found myself behind the curtain, wondering what they were all roaring at! Eventually I parted the sea and wandered out.” 

Kelly’s singing and songwriting skills are so universally recognised, the MC at a recent music gig said:

“Lee Kernaghan and Troy Cassar-Daley only go to the Tamworth Country Music Festival to listen to our next performer – Kelly Cork.” That’s one heck of an introduction! 

Kelly describes his style as ‘alt country’ (alternate country) or ‘roots based country’.

“It’s got that slight bit of blues, folky edge. It’s storytelling,” he explains. “Most of my stuff – there’s a real truthism on the edge of it. Some is fair dinkum personal stuff. I try and be a little different.”

Highlighting this truthism is a line from another song: “Made the same mistake before, may as well make it twice”. I’m sure many of us can relate to that and have occasionally thought, ‘bugger, why did I do that again?’

Therein lies the appeal of both the man and his music. Both embody honesty and simplicity.

Also a mad keen bike rider (this bloke once rode his pushbike 200km out to the Brisbane Valley and back – in a day – for fun), Kelly finds the calmness of the outdoors inspirational. 

“I write so many songs in my head out on the road on my bike. There’s one called Don’t Look Up. That’s all about when you’re up that nagging steep hill, which we’ve got here in Maleny, just look down at the ground because it all looks flat.”

And he shares another insight: “It doesn’t have to be real. I’m sure Johnny Cash didn’t shoot a man just to watch him die!”

Kelly admires Maleny’s long term love affair with music. When he was growing up, “There was always a good handful of local bands back then – they played the country dances. Then as my old man used to say, when the hippies came to town, music started to pick up,” he explains.

“Now there is an amazing bunch of musicians, artists in Maleny, or on the edge. An amazing boiling pot of music. They’re here everywhere. 

“It’s good to be amongst them. When they ask how long I’ve been here, I tell them it’s been a 60-year apprenticeship.” 

Growing up, there were a couple of things he never thought would happen music-wise in Maleny, he says.

“One was that the local RSL would become a really great venue, hosting all styles of music, singers, songwriters. When other professional artists are touring – they want to come and perform here. Another thing, I never thought I could buy guitar strings in Maleny – and you can do that too – at Ziggy’s.”

Reflecting on the many wonderful and interesting people he has met, Kelly recalls a conversation with John Williamson, whose loyalty really impressed him. In a society where many are simply out to make money, Williamson demonstrated his ethics by declining to play at the wedding anniversary of a wealthy, high profile couple, even though they offered him a huge amount of money, because he was already booked.

Despite being in demand on the music circuit, Kelly still radiates the humbleness from his childhood. It doesn’t cease to amaze him that “someone likes your stuff enough to wait in line and buy what you’ve got to offer”.

As for the future, well, there’s a new album in the oven, cooking right now, he says. It’s due out later this year, so stay tuned folks!

Kelly Cork will be playing at the Maleny RSL Variety Bash fundraiser, July 9, from 6.30pm. Details on page 3 of this HT.

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